Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Minor Problem

So, I realize this isn't Wednesday, and thank you for not calling me out on my tardiness. If you read the previous blog you should be up to speed on what I am discussing, if not, let me "bust a re-cap" which hopefully won't be too painful for you. Last week I discussed what I call "the Major problem" in academia. This problem, of course, addresses the distinction of major, and why it's a problem. Clever, eh?

Now, don't get me wrong, I think on paper, having a specific major is a great idea, and a wonderful way to pursue your interests, which I will be discussing this week. The problem really arises, when institutions make three mistakes.

THE THREE MISTAKES:

First of all, most colleges don't take your particular distinction seriously, and therefore, you do not get preferential treatment paramount to your timely success. Now, this differs depending on the institution and what it values academically. So really it's less about what major is most important to the student and more about what major is most important to the school; I will touch on this in a bit. The second mistake is the wastefulness of the first two years of the students life either re-teaching them things they should have learned in high school, OR teaching them things that are of no value to the student's later academic career. Now some may argue it's good to learn a little bit of everything to develop the mind. Unfortunately, it is not the intention of the school to make you a well-rounded human being. It is clear that you are simply a number to them, and all of these extra classes equals more revenue. The third, but not final mistake being made in academia, is the emphasis placed on the professor/student dynamic: the closer you are to your professors, the more chance you have to squeak around the impenetrable red tape. Close can mean one or two things: 1) you could be on a friendly basis ie. a first-name basis, 2)you could be on a friendlier basis, hanging out after class, getting a drink together. With two consenting adults there is nothing wrong with this. A problem arises because the ass-kissing really needs to begin in freshman year for it to really stick. And that's when the ass-kissing becomes a bit inappropriate and untimely for an 18 year old.

What 18 year old, fresh out of high school, wants to suck up to his teachers, and hang out with them after class? One whose been doing it all of his life, that's who. But I digress...

It seems that if you have not honed your ass-kissing skills, if you want to get anywhere in your collegiate career, you need to start on-a-honin'em.


And so, those are three of the Major, conflicting problems in academia. Now onto the
premise of this weeks blog:


The Minor Problem(s) :


Some prospective students completely avoid taking a minor. I don't blame them. Why add another year onto your collegiate life sentence? But, what is so tempting about the minor, is the individual choice you make in a sea of requirements. So I can see the draw in that. Not to mention it makes you look really smart on your diploma. John Jacob Jingleheimer, B.S., Major: Neurophysics, Minor: Ballet dancing. The choice of minor is completely dictated by personal interest. But as far as academia, and the final result is concerned, the major is supposed to be your core subject of interest, and the minor, not-so-much. Therein lies a problem.

Another problem has to do with what is available to students. Deju-vu, anyone?
Your major may be English because you are interested in theater, but your school doesn't have a theater major. So you major in English so you can write, and you minor Psychology because that is what is available. So much for pursuing your interests. This completely made up scenario was brought to you by the letter E. It may not completely illustrate the problem, but I think you might get something out of my own personal experience.


What did you take in college?

Thanks for asking!

After screwing around my first two years, because my B.S. detector's bells and whistles were going off like crazy, I decided to get serious. I transfered in a four year program at Cal State University to Major in Literature and Writing and minor in Sociology. I did this for two reasons, 1) I knew I wanted to be a writer, and after majoring in Communications, doing film work, working at a radio station, and your general putzing around, I still really wanted to be a writer.
2) I had finished my first two years of GEN ED becoming extremely interested in sociology. I loved the study of people and their behavior. I liked Psych too, but it was too scientific for me.
Soc was perfect! Somehow I got it in my head that Literature and Writing and Sociology were the perfect combination of interests. I thought: "This is great!" "I will study people and how they behave and then I will pool my knowledge and then write about people and how they behave!" It seemed highly logical at the time.

When I got to Cal State, which is a WONDERFUL school compared to some of the other slop-houses I've attended, I kind of hit a brick wall. I was faced with four more years of school if I wanted to minor in Sociology. This is after already doing two years.
So I dropped the minor. Funny thing, this "dropping the minor" business. You find out pretty quickly that even without your minor you still need 30 credits of electives for your major. Do you see what I'm getting at here?

So although my dream of seeing : Amy Marie Duda, B.A., Major: Literature and Writing, Minor: Sociology became, Amy Marie Duda: B.A. Major: Literature and Writing, I could live with that. Mostly because I ended up taking six classes of Sociology anyway, and then fell upon the "cursed" Women's studies. I'll get to that later!!

But, my interests are roller-blading, moonlit walks, and data entry.

So even though I only have a major in Literature and Writing now I have a wealth of knowledge in the Sociology field. How did that happen. So wait, let's rewind, I KNOW a lot about Sociology at this point, but I don't get credit on that incredibly important piece of paper for it... GAH!
At least those "electives" weren't wasted on things I was not interested in.
So let's consider this issue of "interest" shall we? Many colleges, with their shiny and colorful recruitment packets, pretend to care what it's students are interested in.
But, I'm sure you have guessed, by now, they don't. They care about what THEY are interested in, for the most part, and what brings them in money. They could have a booming Women's Studies program, that many people are attending, but some nutjob on the board is going to say that there are more students in the Sciences than the Arts and the arts should be cut and Women's Studies falls in the fluffy not-needed arts category. Ok, Ok, enough rambling, I think I have come up with a solution.

Sigh, What's the point?

Hey, now, buck up soldier! I know this all seems bleak. You don't really have much say in what you want to take, and even when you do, you don't have much say in how long that will take. And once you get to be adult-age you will be wondering why you still have no say in the course of your own life and how your time is spent. But all is not lost! The solution I have come up with is simple. It starts in Kindergarten. Decide in Kindergarten what you will want to do for the rest of your life and never, ever change your mind! Remember that question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Don't answer it in passing. Study for it like it's an entrance exam. Don't say "Fire-fighter", or "Mommy" say "Business Executive", or "Brain Surgeon", or "Fast Food Restaurant Manager" and be certain about your choice! Puff up your chest and say it with authority! That way, by the time you get to college, you will know exactly what school to attend that is fitted to your needs, instead of having to cow-tow to some institution's idea of what your needs are. While in school, and having your needs met you will know exactly what classes to take to fit your interests. No wishy-washy, party-harty freshman here! You are all business! Plus, you've been studying your area of interest since Kindergarten, so you know a lot about it. You're practically in genius standing! You could probably test out of all of your classes! No need to kiss ass when you have the genius-pass!

Where was I going with this? Oh, right. PLAN AHEAD. That is the bottom line. Unless you have money out the whazoo and can afford to screw around. My next blog will talk about how exactly you can plan ahead, regardless what stage of the game you are in.


Stay tuned.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Major and Minor Problem.

Hi there, and welcome back. This blog is going to address the issue of colleges getting in the way of it's students' success. That's quite a mouthful, but let's begin. First I want to discuss what I prefer to call:


The Major Problem.


If you are unaware, this is a play on words, really. The most pressing problem I see in academia is the distinction of Major. First of all, so many majors are seemingly distinct by name, but really have you taking many of the same courses in the first two years. At the blissful first hours of orientation, as far as the student is aware, they are a Literature major and in fact in a separate faction of learning than their friend the Dance Major. They would do well however, to get to know each other. Maybe even room together. They will be seeing a lot of each other in the next two years. The school most likely views the Literature and Dance major as cut from the same cloth. Students both pursuing liberal arts degrees, they are viewed as similarly ineffectual, but fiscally necessary. Schools attempt to be somewhat transparent about this. They will tell you that your particular department is either in the "Arts" or "Sciences" and you will receive a degree based on that distinction. What they do not tell you is, that because you chose a "creative" mode in life, you will be forced to be savvy and creatively teach yourself. I'll get to that in a bit.

Before I do, I need to concentrate on one particular part of this problem. Whether you attend University, Community College or a Private Institution, you have to know going in, that your first two years are completely useless. That is not to say that you will gain nothing in those first two years, on the contrary. But the classes you choose to take have no impact on your eventual ambitions whatsoever. In fact, I suggest not making any decisions about the classes you take in the first two years. Have your advisor print up your itinerary of required classes, hand it to you, and create your life around them. If you have done everything "correctly" up until this point you will only be 17 or 18 years old, so you can be flexible. On this itinerary, there will be roughly 60 credits worth of GENERAL EDUCATION. These classes, about 20 or so, can be split into 5 classes per semester, 2 semesters in a year. There you have it. So simple. If you take all of these classes, and of course when you should, you will have learned enough highly useful information to qualify you to enter into studying your major! If you do it that way you will be done your first two years... in two years. Bravo!

What?

It's not that simple, you say?
Well how can that be? You are told the classes you need to take, which are the same, whether you major in Psychology or Basket-weaving...what's the problem?

Oh look! more “Major” Problem(s)...


What schools are offering vs. what they require, is one of the major problems in academia.Imagine this scenario. You are a 19 year old college Sophomore. You have taken 57 of your required General Education credits. You do fairly well for a Dance major forced to take Advanced Biology and Trigonometry. You look at your itinerary that your wonderfully helpful advisor has given you and see that you have checked off all the required classes, all but one. English 102. English 102, is a course required for you to complete your degree. You are anxious to start taking your first Dance Choreography workshop, so you go to your advisor. He/she agrees that you MUST take this class next semester, and would be foolish to put it off. He/she has a plethora of information about how you can get around the class, but is either fiscally or morally obligated to keep quiet. He/she looks at her computer screen for what is available next semester. English 102 is not on the list. How can this be? Isn't English 102 required of all of it's students? It's an imperative course, in which a student learns how to properly indent and use commas! How can you even be a successful dancer without this information?! Biting your lip and praying for a solution you ask your advisor what can be done. Play-acting bewildered they say:

We're clean out of English 102's, might you try Native American History?

There are so many things wrong with that scenario, I do not know where to begin. Well, I guess I do. First of all, remember how I mentioned that your advisor knew ways for you to get around taking the class, but for some reason, didn't say anything. Yeah, I have a big problem with that. I am still in the process of figuring out why this is, beyond the most obvious and glaring reason, to get more money out of you, which is a recurring theme here. So you take Native American History (good for you). You fill the hole in your schedule with a "useless" class, not one with useless information per se, but one that does not give you the required credits to check off. You leave Native American History with a renewed understanding of injustice, still three credits shy of being a Junior. Ah, the irony. Yes, you wasted your time, Yes, you wasted your money, but you know what you have now, my friend? Something that isn't measured in credit hours: Life Experience! Yes, life experience doesn't get you a degree, but it will get you further in life than a degree would in some cases. So what did you learn from that experience?

Wut tey learn-ned mee in skool

Yes, of course life for this would-be Junior, and Dance major isn't all bad. She has her friend the Literature Major, who she spends a great deal of time with. They both sat in much of the same classes, taking Adv. Bio and Trig, one that the Literature major almost failed. But the Literature Major is highly upset when she finds out about the English 102 class from her friend. Not only is it a GEN ED REQUIREMENT FOR EVERYONE, but it is affiliated with her major and is all the more required for her to take. Luckily, the Literature major is friends with one the professors of English in her department. She confides in her professor friend who tells her that she will talk to the prof who usually teaches English 102. She is on sabbatical this semester, but she is more than likely to come to campus and give such a promising lit major a test-out session for English 102.

:D !!!!

What's a test-out session?

:/ Oh.

Well, it's...

Hey wait you don't know about it? Well you're going to have to find out for yourself, because, evidently, it's a huge secret in academic circles!

>:P

Just kidding.

the first amendment gives me the right to tell you, so I will.
A test-out session is when brown-nosers, I mean, students who are friendly with faculty, take a written test made up by the professor who teaches the class that is unavailable. Sometimes it's even for classes that may be at an inconvenient time or in some cases, too expensive for the student. All the student has to do is somehow prove to at least one professor that he or she is brainy enough to "not need to take the class". Then the professor, who has a pre-made test all ready for such an occasion, will administer it in a hush hush top-secret after class "in my office" session. If the student passes (hallelujah!) they just squeaked around taking an expensive English course and spared about 6 months of their life. Get the picture? This is just what the Literature major did. Wouldn't you do it? The only problem is, the Literature major is in a moral dilemma. She cannot tell the Dance major who could benefit from taking the test. Why not? Well, it would only cause confusion, and problems between her and her favorite professor. Because the Dance major is well a dance major, she cannot get permission no matter what she does. In fact even if she asks the very same professor about the very same test, she will be give the stock response "You're not an English major, so I don't think you could pass it." Translation: "You're SOL, baby"Thus driving a wedge between the Literature major and Dance major,who got an A in Trig but is too dumb to test out of ENG 102. That's OK, that just gives her more time to go to the Y and take a dance class, since she still hasn't taken one at her school!!!!!

I like you, you hate me, that's what college is for me.

So, I mentioned earlier about being savvy, and learning to creatively teach yourself. Well, it's situations like the previous one and many others in which you will find yourself having to do so. Hopefully you will have people close to you, who will help you out. For God's sake, listen to these people, especially if they are giving you advice on how to find scholarship money, or just make your time easier or more enjoyable. You will find, however, that some people are very
competitive, or arrogant and will withhold information that could be very helpful. Something that I have noticed that most colleges encourage. Every woahman for her/himself!


Let's bust a re-cap

So what have we learned so far about a successful collegiate experience:

1. The first two years are highly unnecessary to your major and what you want to get out of your college experience, so get them over with as soon as possible. In fact try your hardest to just take all of the classes required of you with 100's and 200's in them NOW. You'll thank me later.

2. If you did your first two years right, you know just as much as everyone else who did them. Now the next two years are about being put into a caste system of how much ass you kissed. Enjoy!

3. Kiss a lot of ass. Kiss as much ass as possible, especially ass you don't know very well. The more ass you kiss, the more favors you will get from people. It's unbelieveable. You can try asking questions, pestering, and being annoying, but then people will just ignore you.

4. Don't take any classes that make you a more intelligent, more well-rounded human being. They aren't required of you and you're just wasting your money.

5. Make friends with cool people, or don't. They're just getting in between you and the asskissing anyway.

6. Spend a few hours in the library reading up on your major. Or take classes outside of school on the subject of interest.You won't get any of this information for two whole years remember? And you'll be ahead of the game once you do.

On Wednesday I will be discussing ....The Minor Problem as it has to do with interest vs. necessity as well as what I like to call "the major segregation".

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Long week of 2 blogs.

So I have a long week ahead of me which gives me time to make three blogs!


One as you know will be called the Major and Minor problem, which should be up Sunday.

The other will be up Wednesday. It will be about my current occupation, it's pros and cons, and the like.

The last will be up that Friday. Not sure what it will be yet, so stay tuned.

In the meantime enjoy this video by The Specials.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pr2HTUlUrDo

It's quite fitting.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The post-graduate limbo.

How low will they go?

In keeping with the tradition of my blog, so far, I must begin by mentioning my 22 year old sister. While doing research for this blog, I received a text message from her that stated simply "Longwood isn't letting me graduate in May...". This, of course, struck a chord with me, as the college that I recently departed from committed the same offense against me. But "Why?", you may ask. Was our GPA too low? Did one of us get kicked off campus, because we were caught selling weed out of our dorm room? The simple answer is: No. They just want more money out of us. That IS the plain and simple answer you will find once you cut through all of the B.S.


The particular B.S. my sister was fed, back in September, was that she had completed the required amount of credits to graduate. The fact that she was, for the lack of better words, lied to, really upsets me. For one thing, she went into that meeting with her advisor, armed to the teeth, fully prepared to do what she needed to. If she was given the correct information, in a timely matter, she would have taken the classes she needed to take and would be walking in the graduation ceremony that should be available to all students. Another issue of contention with me and the collegiate system.

Excusez-moi?!

She had seen the same thing happen to me, a year and three months earlier, when a similar bomb had been dropped about an unnecessary, yet profoundly necessary, French 101 class. Long story short, I had taken French 101 in high school (in the 10th grade), taken French 102 in college after being APPROVED to take it, having the necessary knowledge to do so. I saw that there was still a gap in my transcript where the French 101 class should have been, so I contacted my French prof and said "you mentioned to me about being able to test out of that lower level class we both know I don't need, please contact me about that." I left my email address and phone number. I never heard from her. Over the next year I had talked to my advisor and she suggested I take electives to get the 125 credits needed to graduate(which should be the ultimate factor). I ended up getting to May 2009 with 129/125 credits. When I approached my advisor with this information she said "No, you need French 101 to graduate." I panicked, said, "What do I need to do?" I went through a LONG, arduous, and unnecessary (the key word here), process of filling out forms and phone calls, and emails, and it was a big mess. Ultimately I ended up doing everything I needed to do to walk in May, including taking the class by correspondence through University of Wisconsin (which was something I had to fight for). When I got to my graduation day, all dressed in cap and gown and ready to rock, my name wasn't on the list. They "accidentally" took me off of the list. The story is almost too exhausting to retell, but I gave out a bunch of evil stares and I got to get my empty diploma case handed to me on stage, sans diploma The diploma I would have to track down, on foot, six months later.


That aside, My sister is short six ELECTIVES that magically appeared out of nowhere.

Why? Well that leads me to the topical part of this blog.


The Topical Part


"Colleges and Universities are businesses and students are a cost item. As a result, many institutions tend to educate students in the cheapest way possible."

It seems that they also tend to profile students who can give the most fiscal input/output.

According to DAVID LEONHARDT, writer for the NY times business economy page, the numbers don't look good, and profits are the number one concern. But somehow everything they do to make profits go up, are shooting their numbers in the foot. For one, the number of college students who dropout during their Junior year has increased dramatically in only the last ten years. According to Leonhardt: "In education, the incentives can be truly perverse. Because large lecture classes are cheaper for a college than seminars, freshmen are cheaper than upperclassmen. So a college that allows many of its upperclassmen to drop out may be helping it's bottom line." It seems there is a clear incentive to make completion as difficult as possible for students in the hopes that most of them lack ambition and funds. That they will eventually find the struggle to "finish" too difficult, give up and move on.


FAIL!

Only about 33 percent of seniors graduate "on time". The definition of "on time" has also changed drastically in the last ten years. Four year institutions on average "release" six year graduates. Many graduates refer to their program as "the five year plan" which is a tongue in cheek reference to how the four year program is not realistically four years. So the average upperclassman has paid five to six years worth of tuition, rather than the initial numbers they may have considered as a freshman. Leonhardt suggests:"Conservatives are wrong to suggest affordability doesn’t matter But they are right that more money isn’t the whole answer. Higher education today also suffers from a deep cultural problem. Failure has become acceptable. Graduation delayed often becomes graduation denied. Administrators then make excuses for their graduation rates. And policy makers hand out money based on how many students a college enrolls rather than on what it does with those students. " Practices like this lead economists like Mark Schneider to refer to colleges as “failure factories”.


To Graduate or NOT TO, there's no question!

I'm not advocating dropping out once you are in, and I am certainly not suggesting not graduating after working hard for that degree, but is there another option?
In my opinion, the evidence is clear, the less students who graduate, the more revenue is made for the colleges. Either upperclassman stay in school longer and dole out more tuition, or they drop out, making room for less expensive underclassman. Either way profits are increased. Should we assume as intelligent and critical readers that colleges don't care about the success of it's students? Should we delve even further to see if a B.A. or B.S. is viable or even necessary in this economy?

If a student is "lucky" enough to graduate, they may not have as many choices as they initially expected. A Bachelor's degree isn't today what it was ten years ago. Certainly, the average student in a liberal arts college, does not have the resources for a clear future ahead of them, so they have to be creative and ambitious. In some cases a student can transfer from a four year institution directly into a graduate program and usually have more success gaining skills, and finding a career with the knowledge they are given there. Many graduate schools need students and will GIVE OUT FUNDING to get them. Graduate schools work with their students, prepare them, and treat them like viable adults.

The system as it stands, isn't working. College should be an enjoyable, enriching experience. Many students now are in a hurry to get out and find a 50K/year jobs that they can get with a high school diploma, and do very well having avoided the debt of tuition altogether. Some people still want the creative and intellectual exposure of a college career. Next week I hope to discuss some more problems with the education system and some improvements being made at the graduate level.


Stay tuned next week for : The Major and Minor Problem

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